Social Studies Through The Documentary Lens

Help students gain a critical understanding of today's pressing social issues using clips from POV's award-winning documentaries from around the world. Whether engaging students in group research activities or helping them explore complex questions around media literacy through collaborative conversations, POV's lesson plans offer rigorous entry-points to the study of critical social issues and put a personal face on social, historical, political and cultural topics.

  • The Role of Storytelling in the Justice System

    From "stand-your-ground" and "open carry" laws to police shootings and responses to bullying, the legal limits of self-defense have never been fuzzier. Sensationalized media reports further confuse and complicate the issues. Students' interpretations of the controversies have real-life consequences, especially for young people of color.

    This lesson uses media analysis, group discussion and persuasive writing to help students make sense of the legal reality. They'll sort through stereotypes and prejudices as they examine the role of storytelling in the legal system. This in-depth exploration will focus on a single case as it is presented in the documentary Out in the Night. The film looks at a 2006 case in which a group of young, low-income, African-American lesbians were accused of gang assault and attempted murder.

    Grades: 10-13+
  • Evaluating Political Arguments with Community-Based Evidence

    Using clips from The Overnighters, students will evaluate whether private charity can replace government welfare programs and would, ultimately, do a better job accomplishing the policy goal of alleviating poverty and suffering.

    Grades: 10-13+
  • Child Welfare and the Assessment of "Good Parenting"

    In this lesson, students examine what "good parenting" is and who can make that call, with an emphasis on child welfare agencies that decide whether children can remain with their parents. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Web Junkie | Investigating Internet Addiction - Lesson Plan

    This lesson uses the documentary film Web Junkie as a springboard for a project-based research exercise, assigning students to investigate whether Internet addiction is a problem in their community.

    Grades: 8-13+
  • News Writing, Target Audience and the Syrian Conflict

    In this activity, students will assume the role of a foreign correspondent, reporting on events in Syria for particular target audiences. By the end of the activity, they'll understand the role that target audience plays in how news is reported, and how their policy positions are influenced by that reporting.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Tea Time as Ritual

    In this lesson, students look at tea time rituals either from around the world or in their lives.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Comparing Civil Wars

    It was a war between North and South in which racism and economic interests played major roles. That could, of course, describe the U.S. Civil War. It also describes the recent war in Sudan that led to the creation of South Sudan as a separate nation. A comparative analysis of these two wars—separated in time and place—provides an opportunity to deepen understanding of both conflicts.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Building a New Foundation

    In this lesson, students examine common perceptions of immigrants and refugees with the goal of debunking them using the actual poignant stories and struggles of people who have left their homelands to resettle in very new places. Students revisit perceptions after delving into the journeys, challenges, dreams and goals of those who have left their countries to build better lives.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Why Is It Illegal to Sell People?: Examining Human Rights and Modern-Slavery

    This lesson plan uses the documentary film The Storm Makers to provide students with an opportunity to reflect on the causes and consequences of human trafficking.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • War News in the Digital World: Real, Staged, or Both?

    With the wide availability of smartphones and easy ways to share video online, digital media has changed the way we see and hear about current events. When nearly everyone at a protest or in battle has a camera, the lines between journalism and other forms of storytelling are often blurred.

    Grades: 8-13+
  • The Proverbial Activist: A Profile

    In this lesson, students explore the characteristics of an activist and how activism is sustained over time, despite obstacles and consequences, in order to effect societal change. They delve into the individual roles and qualities of active or potential activists and how they might, will and do effect change.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Blogging, Civic Engagement and the DREAM Act

    This multi-task lesson asks students to look at the DREAM Act in the context of immigration reform and also to reflect on blogging as civic engagement. They'll research the DREAM Act and use clips from the film Don't Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie), which features the experience of undocumented immigrant and blogger Angy Rivera, to look at the human side of this policy issue. 

    Grades: 9-13+